Monday, August 19, 2013

Luther on Justification

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When one thinks of the Reformation, the fat monk with beer in hand who goes by the name of Martin Luther is usually the first person that comes to mind. According to the Augustinian monk, justification was by far the most essential doctrine of the Church. What makes this claim so monumental is that this was the first time in the history of the church that such an emphasis was placed on justification. Luther went as far as claiming that if one did not believe the correct teaching, one was not even a Christian![1] Luther viewed justification as the very foundation of the Church. It was “the master and prince, the lord, the ruler and the judge over all kinds of doctrines;”[2] “upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the pope, the devil, and the whole world.[3]
Having grown up in the Protestant Church, I had heard the phrase “justified by faith alone” so many times I thought that it was an actual verse in the Bible. It was used to combat the heretical Catholic doctrine of “justification by works.” Since these were the only two options available, the former was obviously correct. As I dug deeper into theology, I also started hearing “justification by faith alone” to combat Arminianism, with emphasized free will and man’s part in salvation, thereby also a sort of “salvation by works.” Recently, I have learned about justification’s prominence in Free Grace Theology, or the Eternal Security doctrine. Obviously, much confusion swirls around this phrase. Are Christians using it today in the same way Luther used it in the sixteenth century? Is he truly responsible for the teaching of those who came after him, including the recent theology of “Free Grace”?